Tag Archives: wordplay

Fascinating Words for Colors (and the Battle of Magenta)

Imagine not having a word for “yellow” or “beige” or “orange.” For many years, English got by with a lot fewer words for color than we have today.

By

Mignon Fogarty,

Grammar Girl

 

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Colors are such fundamental, tangible things that it’s hard to imagine not having names for them, but the number of words for colors varies widely by language and for many, many years, English got by without a lot of the color names we take for granted today.

In nearly all languages, the first colors to get names are black and white.

Black

“Black” comes from very old words that meant “to burn” or “burned.” But the same old words also gave us “blake,” which is a now obscure word that meant pale, pallid, and ashen. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary says that it is often difficult to tell which of these two colors is meant in Old English texts when the context doesn’t make it clear. And to make it even more complicated, at some point, “black” could also be used to describe something bright, shining, or glittering, perhaps related to the idea that something that is burning is all those things. So it took “black” a while to be limited to what we think of as black today.

White

“White” is a little more straightforward. In Old English, it meant “bright and radiant, or clear and fair.” It could be describing something we think of as white such as snow, milk, or an old person’s hair, but it could also describe something transparent, or something light yellow, pale gray, or silver. Online Etymology Dictionary says “White” is also one of the oldest surnames in English, originally referring to people with fair hair or a fair complexion.

There are still languages today that have just two words for colors that are essentially white for all light or warm colors and black for all dark or cool colors.

Red

That surprised me, but one thing that surprised me most was that the next color almost all languages name is red—one theory is that it’s because it is the color of blood.

Although black, white, and red all likely go back to the prehistoric language Proto-Indo-European (PIE), Online Etymology Dictionary states that red is “the only color for which a definite common PIE root word has been found.

Red shows up in a lot of place names where it referred to the color of natural elements such as rocks and soil. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary lists Radcliffe, Radclive, Redmile, Redford, and Rattery, all from 1086, and slightly later Radly and Redhill. The same root for “red” also likely gave us the word for the color “rust.”

In those early days though, “red” was probably the name for the color rust, as well as purple, pink, and orange.

In fact, we call people redheads instead of orangeheads because at the time we started calling them anything, the word “orange” hadn’t entered the language as a color word, and the word “red” included the orangey color of red hair.

Interestingly, the Irish writer Stan Carey told me that the Irish word for red hair is different from the general Irish word for red.

Grue

After red, most languages add a word for either yellow or a spectrum that includes both green and blue that language experts sometimes call “grue.” Since blue and green are so prevalent in nature, I would have expected one of them to be the third word more languages would add, but I was wrong!

You can think of these as the five base colors that most languages have: black, white, red, yellow, and green/blue. And English today is described as having 11 main color words: those five base colors (black, white, red, yellow, and green/blue) plus brown, orange, pink, purple and gray, but some languages have more or different words. For example, Russian, Greek, and Turkish have separate words for light blue and dark blue.

Gray, Brown, and Orange

Gray and brown are both very old words that go back to Old English, and orange came from the color of the fruit after oranges were introduced to Europe, around the mid-1500s.

Purple

Purple was originally a shade of crimson “obtained from mollusc dye” and associated with people of importance such as emperors, kings, cardinals, and so on. It came to describe many colors in the spectrum between red and violet. The color we think of as purple today was first called purple in the 1400s.

Pink

Pink is especially interesting. According to the OED, “pink” originally referred to “a greenish-yellow lake pigment made by combining a vegetable coloring matter with a white base such as a metallic oxide.” It seems like that first “pink” was more of a description of the process than the color, since the OED notes there were colors such as green pink, brown pink, rose pink, and pink yellow. The origin of the word is unknown, but in the 1600s, the word “pink” also started being used to mean the light red color we think of today. The origin of the greenish-yellow pink and the light red pink are both listed as unknown, and it’s unclear to me whether etymologists think they are related, but I think not.

This second pink—the one we think of today—probably comes from the color of the flower Dianthus, but the flower probably got its name from the spiky, scalloped shape of its petals because if you’ve ever used pinking shears, you know that “pink” has another meaning: to cut a scalloped or zigzag edge on fabric. Earlier, it also meant to punch holes or slits into fabric. So the “cut fabric” meaning of pink came first, the flower Dianthus was called a pink because of the shape of its petals, and then we got the color pink from the color of the Dianthus flowers.

But English also had a different word to describe the color pink before we started using “pink.” In the 1500s and into following centuries you could use the word “incarnate,” which comes from the Latin word for “flesh.” It doesn’t look like it was used alone the way we use colors alone today, as in “That flower is pink.” Still, you could describe something as “an incarnate color,” meaning a pink or fleshy color, or say you picked “incarnate clovers,” meaning pink clovers.

Colors from Nature

Colors continued to come from nature through the 1700s. For example, ultramarine, a blue color, comes from Latin that means “beyond the sea,” probably because the color originally came from a blue pigment from the mineral lapis lazuli which came from Asia.

The late 1700s gave us “maroon,” from the French word for the color of a chestnut, and “puce,” from the French word for flea or the color of a flea (yes, the insect).

Colors After Chemical Dyes

Advances in chemistry in the mid-1800s that allowed manufacturers to make synthetic dyes led to an explosion of new colors, and the fashion industry in particular embraced the ability to add novelty to its products and drove the adoption of many new color words. According to a book called “Bright Modernity: Color, Commerce, and Consumer Culture”:

“Women’s magazines disseminated the names of new colors and sometimes their origins. Acquiring this knowledge was part of keeping up with fashion for the  middle-class female consumer.”

Many of these new color words came from French. Some of the colors this new era gave us include the following:

  • Mauve: The French word for the color of the mallow plant’s flower
  • Ecru: From the French word for “raw or unbleached” because it is the color of unbleached linen
  • Beige: From the French word to describe the color of undyed, unbleached wool
  • Burgundy: Referring to the color of wine through the Burgundy region in France
  • Turquoise: From the Old French word for “Turkish” because the turquoise-colored stone was originally imported from the Turkish region

The mid-1800s also gave us “aquamarine,” which comes from Latin and means “sea-water,” and “khaki,” which comes from the Urdu word for “dusty.”

Tangerine, the fruit, got its name in the mid-1800s because that particular type of orange was imported from Tangier, and it started being used as a color word in 1899.

There are so many more interesting color words, and I just learned that Kory Stamper from Merriam-Webster is writing an entire book about color words, but I’ll end with the two words that got me started on this grand expedition into color words in the first place: magenta and solferino.

Magenta was originally patented in 1859 by a French chemist and called “fuchsine,” after the fuchsia flower, but soon thereafter was changed to honor a French military victory over the Austrians near the northern Italian town of Magenta. And solferino is a bright crimson purplish red or purplish pink (sources disagree) named around the same time as magenta after a village in northern Italy, again because of a battle that took place in the region.

Solferino also appears to be a coloring that can be added to liquor, at least it was in 1866 when it was used as a tincture that was mentioned alongside caramel and turmeric in the book The Independent Liquorist. The author described solferino as “The handsomest, as well as the most powerful color known to the trade.”

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

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Poetry: Making Music with Words

Most writers are primarily concerned with the meaning of the words they choose. Is the language precise and accurate? Do the words provide the best connotation for what the writer is trying to communicate? Does the language show, rather than tell?

But poets take language a step further and push it into the realm of music. Poets care about meaning, precision, and accuracy as well as connotation and imagery. But they also care about how words sound, because musicality is a fundamental feature of poetry.

Poets use various elements of music to compose a poem. But because the written word is read and not heard, some elements of music aren’t available, like pitch and timbre.

Spoken word and performance (or slam) poetry are exceptions, because these works are designed to be heard and can incorporate musical elements that aren’t available to authors who write to be read. But most poets rely on a variety of literary devices and techniques to bring music to their work. Foremost among these are meter, sound, rhyme, repetition, and structure.

Meter (Rhythm)

In poetry, meter is a syllabic pattern, which is determined by stressed and unstressed syllables. We’ll use bold to denote stressed syllables in the first line of “What Kind of Times Are These” by Adrienne Rich:

There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill

Let’s see what happens when we strip away the language, so we can see the raw meter of the line:

da-da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-da DUM DUM da-DUM

As you can see, the meter gives the poem rhythm, an underlying drumbeat. This demonstration shows why it’s important to review the syllables in the lines of your poetry to check the meter.

Sound (Melody)

A song’s melody is determined by the sequence and length of notes played or sung by musicians. In poetry, melody is driven by the vowel and consonant sounds within the words of the poem. Consider this simple tune: la de-da, la de-da, la-la-la. 

Now compare it to this: doo-da, doo-da, doo-de-da.

We don’t know the exact notes or melody just from reading these sounds, but there is an implied tune when we read them aloud. We can bring a little rhythm to the sounds as well by placing stress on select syllables:

LA de-da, LA de-da, LA-LA-LA. 

DOO-da, DOO-da, DOO-de-DA.

So how do we put it all together? By choosing words that match the melody and meter that we’re aiming for:

LA de-da, LA de-da, LA-LA-LA. 
On the dock, six o’clock, stomp on rock

DOO-da, DOO-da, DOO-de-DA.
Stooping, drooping, boorish king

You’ll notice that in addition to rhythm and meter, we introduced some rhymes.

Rhyme

The most common rhymes are perfect end rhymes–words that appear at the end of lines in poetry and that rhyme perfectly. Here’s an example from Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax:

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot
Nothing is going to get better, it’s not.

The words lot and not rhyme perfectly and are placed at the end of the first two lines, respectively. The placement of rhyme in a poem, coupled with its meter, can give the lines a sing-song quality. We can use different meters, sounds, and rhyme placements to pull different musical qualities into our poetry. Here’s an excerpt from “Spelling” by Margaret Atwood, which shows internal rhymes:

At the point where language falls away
from the hot bones, at the point
where the rock breaks open and darkness
flows out of it like blood, at
the melting point of granite

Try reading these lines aloud to hear the inherent music contained within. Notice that the lines do not use a metrical pattern, but the layered internal rhymes give it rhythm:

  • away and breaks
  • hot and rock
  • bones, open, and flows
  • The word point appears three times in these five lines, but the repetition of this word is barely noticeable.

It’s worth noting that some poems don’t rhyme at all. Rhyme is important in poetry, but it’s actually a subset of a broader and even more important poetic device that is essential in both poetry and music: repetition. After all, rhyme is just repetition of sounds.

Repetition

Repetition is the technique that really sums up how we make music out of words in poetry. All of the techniques mentioned above ultimately use repetition:

  • We create a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables — and a pattern is really just repetition.
  • We choose words and arrange them in such a way that they create a pseudo melody, which is achieved primarily by patterning (or repeating) certain sounds.
  • And we use rhyme — maybe end rhymes that ring like cymbals or internal rhymes that jingle like a tambourine. Rhymes are, by nature, repetition.

Layering the repetitions of these elements creates greater musical dynamics in a poem.

As you can see, a poem’s musicality really comes from the repetition of various elements within the lines and stanzas. And there are more elements that we can repeat. Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in close proximity: prickly pears. Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in close proximity: hat rack.

Some poems even use repetition in their very structure.

Structure

A poem’s music also comes from its structure — the length of lines and stanzas, placement of line and stanza breaks, punctuation, and spacing. All of these elements contribute to the poem’s structural sounds and therefore contribute to its musicality.

In music, a rest is an interval of silence. In poetry, these intervals are indicated by line breaks, stanza breaks, punctuation, and spacing. Rests are similar to the concept of white space in art.

For example, punctuation provides indicators for pausing (or resting) with commas and periods or inflections for questions and exclamations.

Do You Make Music with Poetry?

Plenty of excellent works of poetry aren’t especially musical. But musicality is an important aspect of poetry.

How do you infuse your poetry with music?

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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Where Should You Begin Your Story? – An Excerpt from Structuring Your Novel

First Edition Design Publishing

Another great writing post by K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

From her Blog “Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors”

Just for fun, today I’d thought I’d give you a sneak peek of my upcoming bookStructuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story. The book, available September 1, 2013, x-rays our notion of storycraft to get past the outer aesthetics right on down to the muscular and skeletal systems that make our books work. Once we grasp the mechanics of structure, we’re able to take so much of the guesswork out of crafting a strong story from start to finish.
Today, I’d like to share an excerpt from Chapter 2, which talks about one of the trickiest questions any author is faced with: Where to begin the story?


***
Authors are much more likely to begin their stories too soon, rather too late. We feel the pressure of making sure readers are well-informed. They have to understand what’s going on to care about it, right? To some extent, yes, of course they do. But the problem with all this info right at the beginning is that it distracts from what readers find most interesting: the character reacting to his current plight.

What is the first dramatic event?

The question you need to ask yourself is, “What is the first dramatic event in the plot?” Finding this event will help you figure out the first domino in your story’s line of dominoes. In some stories that first domino can take place years before the story proper and therefore will be better told as a part of the backstory. But, nine times out of ten, this will be your best choice for a beginning scene.

What is your first major plot point?

Another thing to keep in mind is the placement of your First Plot Point, which should occur around the 25% mark (we’ll discuss this in more depth in Chapter 6). If you begin your story too soon or too late, you’ll jar the balance of your book and force your major plot points at the 25%, 50%, and 75% marks off schedule.
(We’ll be discussing these plot points and their placements at length later on, but, for now, let me just emphasize that these placements at the quarter marks in the story are general guidelines. Unlike movies, which operate on a much tighter structural timeline, novels have the room to allow long series of scenes to build one into the other to create the plot points as a whole—and thus can occur over long sections, even chapters, rather than smack on the money at the quarter marks.)
Consider your First Plot Point, which will be the first major turning point for your characters and, as a result, often the Inciting or Key Event (which we’ll also discuss in Chapter 6). The setup that occurs prior to these scenes should take no more than a quarter of the book. Anymore than that and you’ll know you’ve begun your story too early and need to do some cutting.

What are the three essentials?

The most important thing to keep in mind is the most obvious: No deadweight. The beginning doesn’t have to be race-’em-chase-’em, particularly since you need to take the time to introduce and set up characters. But it does have to be tight. Otherwise, your readers are gone.
How do you grip readers with can’t-look-away action, while still taking the time to establish character? How do you decide upon the perfect moment to open the scene? How do you balance just the right amount of information to keep from confusing readers, while at same time raising the kind of intriguing questions that make them want to read on? When we come down to it, there are only three integral components necessary to create a successful opening: character, action, and setting.
Barnes and Noble editorial director Liz Scheier offered an anecdote that sums up the necessity of these three elements:

 A professor of mine once posed it to me this way, thumping the podium for emphasis: “It’s not ‘World War II began’! It’s ‘Hitler. Invaded. Poland.’”

Scheier’s professor not only made a sturdy case for the active voice, he also offered a powerful beginning. Let’s take a closer look.